The concept of self, although commonly used inpsychology, is known to be notoriously difficult to define. Self-concept can bebroadly defined as various mutual experiences and ideas about the self infacets of life, such as, knowing we are the same person across time, knowingthat we are unique from the environment and therefore we are responsible of ourthoughts and actions (Lyons & Fitzgerald, 2013). Being aware of one’s ownself and ones’ own mental states, refers to an important term underself-concept, known as self-awareness (Huang et al., 2017). Inspecific, many researchers have questioned the link between theory of mind and self-awareness,examining the notion on whether the cognitive mechanism used to attributethoughts and feelings to others and predict behavior is the same one used forreflecting on ones’ own mental state (Frith & Happe, 1999).
In pursuit of answering such questions,psychologists have found that Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), hasbeen able to provide a model that explores the nature of self-awareness.ASC isa developmental disorder that is diagnosed on the basis of earlyarising abnormalities in imagination, social interaction and communication(William & Happe, 2008). A prominent paper in the literature on ASC andself-awareness, by Frith & Happe (1999) claims that those diagnosed withASC are unlikely to be able to reflect upon their own mental states due to adeficit in the cognitive mechanism used for theory of mind.
Although a bunch of findingshave supported this notion, this disputatious claim hasinstigated discussion among a number of psychologists. These psychologistsargue that it may be quite deterministic to assume that allthose who are diagnosed with ASC have a completely diminished sense of self. Using the literature present onthis topic, the essay will aim to define the relationship between theory ofmind, theory of own mind and ASC. This essay will then, attempt to argue thatthe extent in which those who are diagnosed with ASC are able to reflect upontheir own mental state is dependent on whether the aspect of self-awarenessthat is being measured is psychological self-awareness or physicalself-awareness. Beforeproceeding to examine self-awareness in ASC, it is important to acknowledge therole of theory of mind in relation to this topic.
Theory of mind refers to the cognitive ability to reflect upon thedesires, perspectives and beliefs of others and the ability to predict othersbehavior with reference to these mental states (Premack and Woodruff, 1978). Theoryof mind also allows for the ability to distinguish that others mental statesare different from one’s own (Goldman, 2012). The attribution of mental statesis also critical in aiding the development of communication, as well as, affectiveand social interaction with others (Perner et al., 1989). Researchers have found strong evidencesuggesting that the development of Theory of Mind is a product of a cognitiveprocess that is innately present in humans, and is triggered by appropriateenvironmental factors (Goldman, 2012; Baren-Cohen, 1995). In specific, thiscognitive process refers to a representational system made up of that begins asPrimary first order-representations (understanding reality), and at around18 months of age, the child’s capacity then extends into second order-representations(one thing can represent another). Through communication and social interactionat the ages of 3-4, is then when one acquires meta-representations(representation of a representation) of the world (Lesile, 1987). An extensive amount of research made on the development of theoryof mind, resulted in a `number of paradigms that have been introduced asmethods of testing this notion.
The most prominent litmus test used for theoryof mind is the false belief task, Wimmer & Perner (1983) defined this as anassessment of the ability to isolate ones’ own beliefs from the beliefs ofanother person who may have false knowledge of a certain situation. One taskthat is highly used to assess the ability to attribute false beliefs to otherpeople, is a location change task, the Sally-Anne task. In this task, twopuppets are shown to the child, Sally who has a box and Anne whohas a basket. Sally is then shown to have put a marble in her box and proceedsto leave the scenario, Anne is then shown to take the marble from the box andplace it into her basket. Sally, is then reintroduced to the scenario andchildren are asked “where does sally think the ball is”. Using thistask, a range of studies found that usually aged between 3 and 4 tend to findit easier to answer questions on false belief and tend to pass similar tasks tothis as well, (e.
g. appearance reality test, smarties content change falsebelief task) (Gopkin & Astington, 1988; William & Happe, 2009; Perner1985). Theory theorist argue thatchildren who do not pass these tasks are unable to do so because they have notacquired a representational theory of belief and thus are unable to grasp thenotion that a belief can be false to someone else (Goldman, 2012).